“We have enjoyed the opportunity to continue to provide you with Wine Club exclusive wines over the past year,” the company wrote. “However, moving forward, we must share with you that we will be discontinuing our Columbia Winery Wine Club effective with the last shipment in November.”
The email refers wine club members to Gallo’s wineries in California for tasting room experiences. It states that Columbia wines will continue to be available.
“Rest assured, many of your favorite Columbia Winery wines will still be available for purchase in retail stores, online in The Barrel Room, and in restaurants.”
A representative from Gallo confirmed that Columbia crushed fruit this harvest. Thus it would appear this decision is solely regarding Columbia’s wine club offerings and doesn’t signal larger changes at the winery.
The move by Gallo comes less than a year after the company did not renew its lease on Columbia’s Woodinville tasting room. Columbia had been leasing the facility, considered to be one of the most iconic in Woodinville, since 1988. There is no word at present on the future of the building.
Additionally, Sean Hails, who served as senior manager winemaking/operations at Columbia since Gallo purchased the company, left the winery this past April. However, as of earlier this week, he remains listed as winemaker on the Columbia website. Hails is now senior director of winemaking at The Wine Group after working at Gallo since 2005.
Much of the wine industry of late has focused on premiumization, direct-to-consumer sales, and wine club-driven business models. However, it appears that, going forward, Gallo will be focusing Columbia solely on a more traditional approach of selling nationally distributed wines. This could simply be a follow-on from the company’s decision not to renew the lease on the Woodinville property last year. Wine clubs are typically, in large part, tasting room-driven.
E. & J. Gallo purchased Columbia Winery and Covey Run from Ascentia Wine Estates in 2012. The wineries were Gallo’s first foray into Washington. Covey Run, founded in 1982, was subsequently shut down.
Puget Sound Business Journal (PSBJ) listed Columbia as Washington’s 14th largest winery in 2023. It states that the winery made approximately 230,000 cases of wine last year. (NB: There are caveats to these data that can significantly affect the accuracy.)
Gallo also owns Washington’s Hogue Cellars. Hogue was among 30 brands and 6 wineries purchased by Gallo from Constellation in 2019 for $1.7B. PSBJ currently lists Hogue as Washington’s 17th largest winery at approximately 126,000 cases per year. Hogue also does not operate a tasting room and does not have a wine club.
Columbia Winery was founded in 1962 as Associated Vintners by a group of 10 people, largely university professors. (Read a recent article about the last surviving founder.) Seattle businessman Dan Baty, initially an investor in Associated Vintners, took over management of the company in 1981. Two years later, the winery was rebranded Columbia.
Columbia has been involved in a series of transactions since then. Constellation Wine Brands purchased the winery in 2001. Constellation subsequently sold the winery to Ascentia Wine Estates in 2008. Gallo purchased the winery four years later.
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